In part 2 of this blog series, Ruth Glassborow takes a more in-depth look at some of the many different reasons why change is resisted. 

In 2011, I conducted a literature analysis which identified 63 different reasons why change was resisted. Each reason can be categorised under one of the following four headings:

  • lack of dissatisfaction with status quo
  • lack of belief that proposed change is a better way of doing things
  • lack of ability to action the change, or
  • poor leadership.

My dissertation was exploring the factors which lead to change being adopted or resisted within the Scottish Primary Care context. So I looked at what the generic management literature said about resistance to change, and considered whether there were any differences in the healthcare literature.

In my analysis I also categorised the reasons why people resist change into three areas: individual reasons, issues associated with being part of a group and issues associated with the organisational set up. You can find a summary table at the end of this blog and access the full analysis.

From this analysis, what struck me was:

  • There are significantly more reasons associated with a lack of ability to implement change, than with the other categories
  • Six of the nine reasons for resisting change due to group dynamics only appeared in the healthcare literature. Perhaps group dynamics play a larger role in healthcare due to the emphasis on team working? Maybe the multi-professional nature of teams leads to a greater complexity of group dynamics impacting on resistance to change?
  • Issues around tangible evidence only came up in the healthcare literature. So perhaps evidence for change plays a bigger role in healthcare change than in other industries? That certainly resonates with my own experiences. It also emerged as a key issue in my interviews with colleagues in primary care.  (I will share in a future blog further insights on this issue generated from my interviews with a number of GPs)
  • The emphasis on senior management resistance in the healthcare literature. One of the common themes I’ve found when delivering training on this topic matter has been middle managers reporting that the problem is not with their teams resisting; it is convincing the senior leadership team to support a change idea that has come forward from their teams. That raises interesting questions for all of us leaders:  we are often quick to criticise our staff for their resistance to our ideas, yet how open are we to theirs?

My literature review was limited to 46 papers so it may be that a broader, more contemporary analysis would have different findings. And as I reviewed my findings for this blog, I was reminded of a word of caution from a researcher friend: a lack of evidence of something is not the same as saying there is evidence that it doesn’t exist.

However, over the years of training on the subject of resistance to change, and applying the principles within my own practice, I have found that the key messages in my analysis strongly resonate with others and have usefully helped inform my practical experience of implementing change.

I would love to hear whether these findings resonate with your experiences and also what, if anything, stands out for you. And for anyone interested to find out more, you can find a more detailed analysis of the reasons why change is resisted.

Finally, whilst it is fascinating to consider the multitude of different factors which influence whether change is resisted, I find that often it is enough to stick with the main headings and ask myself whether the group I want to influence are:

  • dissatisfied with the status quo and
  • believe the change being proposed is a better way of doing things and
  • have the ability to implement the change and
  • are supported by an effective leadership context.

So I’ve shared some of my findings on the nature of resistance, on why people tend to resist change, and how those reasons vary across different social and organisational settings. In the next instalment in this series, I look forward to sharing with you my findings from the research on how to effectively respond to resistance to change.

Ruth Glassborow is Director of Improvement at Healthcare Improvement Scotland.